27th Oct 2016

Nato chief: Mali shows holes in EU defence

  • France could not have carried out its bombing raids in Mali without US help. (Photo: Nato)

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said French action in Mali points to holes in European defence capabilities.

Speaking to press on Saturday (2 February) at an annual conference on trans-Atlantic security in Munich, Germany, he noted that, as in the Libya conflict in 2011, France could not have carried out its bombing raids without US help.

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"European allies still need strong support from the United States in their endeavours to carry out such an operation ... The Mali operation once again points to the need for increased European efforts to fill the gaps when it comes to essential military capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," he said.

He underlined the point in a separate interview with the Financial Times.

"We saw that in Libya and in Mali the US has had to come and provide Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance assets, they have had to provide air-to-air refuelling tankers for jets," he noted.

"These are just two capabilities where we have huge European shortfalls. The Europeans must invest to fill the gaps," he added.

In his keynote speech at the Munich event, Fogh Rasmussen warned that EU cuts in defence spending risk undermining the US-dominated alliance.

"Security challenges won't wait while we fix our finances. And more cuts now will lead to greater insecurity in the future, at a cost we simply can't afford," he said.

For his part, US vice president Joe Biden told Munich that the US' new emphasis on Asia does not mean it will forget its World-War-II-and-Cold-War-era ally.

"Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world ... This engagement [with Asian countries] does not come at Europe's expense," he said.

He noted that the fight against jihadists in north Africa "is fundamentally in America's interest."

But he echoed Fogh Rasmussen's warning against EU defence cuts.

"I realise how difficult this is with an economy having slipped back into recession last year and the ever-present temptation to back away from commitments on defence spending. But I also know that maintaining our capabilities is what enables us to advance our common global agenda," he noted.

Fogh Rasmussen and Biden's remarks came one day ahead of French President Francois Hollande's triumphal visit to Timbuktu in north Mali.

A three-week long French assault on rebel-held towns has driven jihadists into desert and mountain hideouts with few French or Malian casualties.

Two spokesmen for EU defence policy at the Munich event envisioned future EU-level contribution to Nato in the fields of planning, peacekeeping and diplomacy rather than hard power, however.

German defence minister Thomas de Maiziere noted that "the vision of a joint European army ... puts many people off anyway" and that the UK, a leading EU military power, is "more reluctant" than ever on deeper EU integration.

He outlined "logistics ... civilian co-operation and civil-military co-operation ... long-term stabilisation, reconstruction aid and humanitarian missions" as areas where the EU can complement Nato-led operations.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton highlighted EU state-building efforts in Somalia and Kosovo, as well as joint EU-US diplomacy on Belarus, Iran and Ukraine as examples of how the EU and US "need to work together into the future."

She said EU-level action in Mali will focus on "[taking] Mali forward not just militarily but politically, in support of the people of the north and in support of democracy."

"That is for me what the purpose of the Lisbon treaty and the creation of this role was all about," she added, referring to the 2010 EU agreement which set up her EU foreign service.

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